Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To Advise or Not to Advise...

Dear MikChiks--
Since you're so good at multi-generational advice, I've got a situation that might be right up your alley. I've got three adult children, all married, and two adorable grandchildren. For the most part, I'm happy with the choices my children have made for spouses and careers, and the way they're living their lives and raising their children. But sometimes...not really.

So I'm dying to give them advice--but our family dynamics, going back at least two generations, don't really work that way. I'm worried that my advice-giving would be seen as butting in, interfering, judging. I don't want to make my grown-up children resent me, or even worse, to feel that I disapprove of them.

And in fact, my own parents pretty much tossed their children to the wolves once we hit adulthood--it feels like I'm doing the same thing, and it bothers me. My relationship with my parents is cooler than I'd like--well, that's complicated, and perhaps a conundrum for another time. But...am I becoming my mother to my own children?

So I don't really know if my kids are thinking, gee, I wish mom would impart some of her wisely wise wisdom to me here...but if I were to say, "You know, dear, maybe little Poindexter shouldn't be allowed to play with that open tube of Super Glue", I'm terrified that Poindexter's daddy would resent me, and even shut me out of their lives. On that note, is it even remotely possible to start giving advice to my children's spouses? I'd really like to do that.

Do adult children want their parents' unsolicited advice? How do other parents of adult children give advice without jeopardizing the relationship? Gack!

If you're about to give me the green light to butt in--how exactly do I do that, after years of butting out? Won't that cause one of those "who are you and what have you done with my mom" moments?

Signed,
Biting My Tongue

Dear Biting My Tongue,
Parents advising their adult children is a tricky situation no matter what your family dynamics. In our case, we've probably greased the wheels of communication to the point where we know far, far, too much about each other's opinions. On everything.  

Seriously.

It seems though, that your family has taken "bottling" to the extreme, and perhaps that's not so great either. You're all missing out on a feeling of closeness for fear of alienating.  There is a middle ground. 

You're right when you say that you can't just knock down your kid's door, guns blazing, and start firing off all that wisdom a la Arnold S. You need to start things slowly. 

Step Number One: open a wider range of General Dialogue with your kids.

Get the ball rolling by opening up yourself FIRST. Talk to your kids and kids-in-law about a problem that you're having in your own life. Ask them what they think you should do about your annoying coworker who smells like cheese in the next cubicle over.

Asking for their advice will make them feel like you value their opinion. During this time, you should also be casually pointing out all the things you love about your kids. When people feel some approval, it makes them more apt to be communicative.

The current trend in counseling, btw, is where the counselor gives no direct advice, merely helps the counselees come up with the right answers themselves.  For example:

Hmmmm....
You:  I wonder what kind of fumes come out of tubes of superglue.
Kid:  I'm not sure, Mom.  Why?
You:  No reason—just happened to read an article about the dangers of huffing—they say it can start young…
Kid:  Hmmm…(takes tube from Poindexter's slimy dimpled grasp)

But we have mixed feelings about this technique—while it can be less bulldozing, and helps people come to their own ah-ha moments, it can also feel manipulative.  We really feel the answer lies in expanding Genuine Conversation—express yourself beyond bland, surfacey feelings—in a multitude of areas—not only the ones you have issues with. 

After a while of laying this groundwork, you will most likely find that everyone involved is enjoying ah-ha moments (you included!), and that your kids (after a period of wonder) will appreciate being able to discuss life's coNUNdrums with you—but you're all still welcome to check in here for additional conversation…

Biting my Tongue, we'd love to give you an assignment of opening yourself up at least once each time you have a conversation with one of your children.  Would you do that and report back in?

And what Solicited Advice do the Readers have?

With Mucho Love,
Maddie and Lisa

11 comments:

  1. Communication, communication, communication! That's the key!
    Great advice Mik chiks!

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  2. Absolutely wonderful advice, girls! Spot on! :)

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  3. Great advice, Miks. I can't think of anything to add. I'm a guns-blazing person and need to take this advice when communicating with people myself.

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  4. I have a MIL who used to give her opinion/advice/thought of the minute just willy-nilly and it drives me (and my DH crazy). The reason is not because we don't value her, but because her opinion/advice/thought of the minute are generally off the wall, not thought out and in some cases completely contravene and defy logic. I have learnt to grin and bear it, as does Terry. I respect her and love her, but when she starts spouting off I glaze over.

    Now, having said that, she is an amazing gardener and I have been known to kill plastic plants. When I wanted to plant a new garden I asked her for advice and she was awesome.

    Talking to in-law kids is risky - I know my MIL has learnt not to offer as freely as she used to; but I have also been careful to thank her when she has said something particularly meaningful. I am going to be the MIL in August and my DIL is already a mommy to a cute almost 3-year old daughter. Unless she specifically asks for me for parenting advice I am keeping my nose out of it! But that's just me. My son has done a great job so far of helping raise his step-daughter and I can see my parenting reflected in him so honestly I do not see too many issues there.

    I think, when dealing with in-laws, you go through your own kid first. But that's just me.

    Now, if said in-law kids are doing something to put their kids in harm's way - all bets are off.

    But, like Lisa, we are pretty open with our kids, so my relationship with them is very different from the relationship (or non-relationship) I have with my own parents, or with my in-laws, whom I happen to love more than my parents.

    OK, done rambling, not sure whether that was helpful at all!

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  5. I think it depends on the level of dysfunction. If you're a relatively normal family with a few kinks, go ahead and proceed as the MikChicks directed-with subtelty and love. If you're as whacked out as my family as, chances are they are not going to be too receptive to any unsolicited advice. I think you should pray about the situation and then act as God directs you. Look to the Word of God for Biblical advice and then look for a Biblical way to express your feelings. Pray, pray, pray! If in doubt, remain silent unless directed otherwise.

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  6. Yep. What they all said.

    Love first, that will temper everything.

    Then, take your place as Gramma - you can have quirks and your very own 'rules of the house' - it's endearing! Trust me, as one who lost Mom and Gramma last year, even the mundane 'interferences' are something to treasure.

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  7. Great additional food for thought--and Biff, I love that you treasure your m-i-l.

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  8. Off to a great start. I'd toss in...
    - When opening up to them, look for ways to talk about your relationship with your parents, how it made you feel, even what you hope for in a relationship with your kids.
    - consider just saying, "You know, I feel like I have some things to offer now and then since I've already been through this. Do you want to hear my thoughts on things?"

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  9. Also Biting My TongueMay 12, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    I'm with Biting My Tongue on this one. I guess I feel as if a grown-and-married child's primary relationship has to be with their spouse and with their own little nuclear family, and that I have no right to interfere with that relationship...that anything I say might have a secondary message of "I don't trust you to do this right", or might undermine that relationship somehow with the implication that it is somehow flawed. And there's also a certain "sink or swim" mentality that I've learned from my own parents--the idea that we learn from our mistakes. Who am I to deny my big kids that learning experience?

    I really like the advice to open up a bit at a time, and also the 'script' from roadkills-r-us. Something to mull over, to be sure.

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  10. Hey ABMT--I wouldn't go into it with the idea that communication undermines their nuclear family. Bashing a kids spouse can do that--but opening up healthy conversation doesn't. A good place to start (like Roadkills suggested) is helping your children to understand you. I think kids love that because it helps them begin to understand themselves.

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  11. I love the Mik Chiks' advice and the others, too. I smile when I remember a remark made to me by my mother-in-law (She was a treasure to me and died much too young.) It was the day of mini skirts, and a much younger and slimmer version of me had one on that was not short-short but came several inches above my knees. She said, "Verna, that's a pretty 'waist' you have on." (For any who don't know it, that's an old-fashioned word for blouse.) We both laughed...and she still loved me, and I still loved her as I continued to wear it. In the ten years I was her daughter-in-law, she made only several "suggestions" to me. I cherish the memory of one thing she said when I was pregnant the first time, "I hope you'll be blessed with a son and a daughter, just like I was,"...and I was.

    For additional advice, I think I'd continue to bite my tongue on any unimportant things you notice, and I'd pray for guidance and Christian wisdom before saying anything that could be taken as negative about your children's child- rearing.

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